KNOW YOUR SEASON: Asparagus can be slender and expensive during the winter, but come spring it is plentiful, thick and far cheaper. Why is that? When a vegetable isn’t in season locally, it might be coming from hundreds or thousands of miles away. That adds significant transportation and fuel expense to the cost of vegetables that aren’t as fresh as in-season produce. So buying in-season is cheaper, and you get fresher vegetables. Find a handy online guide by the CDC with details of when fruits and vegetables are in season at http://bit.ly/cQL1Tp.
OPT FOR A CSA BOX: If you like a lot of different vegetables, try a “CSA box,” which stands for community supported agriculture. If you join a CSA program, you’ll pay up to several hundred dollars up front and then get a box of fresh vegetables from one or two farms each week, usually June through November. It’s expensive up front but generally adds up to less than you would pay elsewhere. However, you don’t have much of a choice in what you’re getting. So if you’re picky, consider going to a local greenmarket instead.
TRY A GREENMARKET: For more choices, hit a local greenmarket, where farmers set up tables laden with their bounty through spring, summer and fall. There are several ways to get deals. If you want asparagus but it is pricey and wilted, buy the cheaper leeks and onions. Many people go early for the best selection, but Jack Bishop, editorial director of America’s Test Kitchen, says go late and buy more, and be willing to haggle. “Farmers, especially later in the day, have a real incentive not to want to bring back whatever it is they brought to the market,” he says.
JOIN A FOOD CO-OP: At food co-ops, your elbow grease cuts down on the price of farm-fresh vegetables. Rules and requirements vary, but traditionally, they are created and staffed by members only. That keeps overhead costs down, so prices are lower. The tradeoff is you usually have to work there for several hours a month and be involved in decisions about how the co-op is run. Some co-ops allow nonmembers to buy produce at higher prices. Find a co-op in your area at http://www.cooperativegrocer.coop/coops.
– Associated Press